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Capturing the core of carbon

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Achieving a low carbon economy, measuring our carbon footprint and investing in carbon capture make the business of climate change an industry in its own right. Carbon is a prominent element of the industrial age and spans a wide spectrum of topics in modern industry.

Dr Gareth Neighbour, Senior Lecturer in Materials & Process Performance at the University of Hull, and Chairman of the British Carbon Group (BCG), discusses this elemental building block and how the BCG promotes the science of carbon and related materials.

Apart from climate change, where does carbon have an impact?
Dr Neighbour: Carbon science is immensely important to today’s society and its impact is far more than meets the eye. It has a broad repertoire of extraordinary physical, mechanical and chemical properties in its various forms as graphite, diamond, amorphous carbon and fullerenes. It has supported metal clusters that perform feats of catalysis, lined fusion reactors, provided electrodes in large-scale steel furnaces, enabled lithium ion battery technology, moderated neutrons in fission reactors and provided exceptional cutting tools; the list is endless. It’s impact is set to increase with the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, which enables us to manipulate single sheets of graphite, curved by pentagons, into cage molecules (fullerenes) or rolled into carbon nanotubes. In the last decade, finite single and double sheets of graphene have been produced. The dynamics of charge carriers in mono-layer and bi-layer graphene have extraordinary properties, deriving largely from the fact that they have zero-effective mass. The future of carbon materials is certainly bright!

How does the BCG incorporate this into their structure and activities?
Dr Neighbour: Our 320 members represent the full range of the carbon research community. Our last meeting was devoted to ‘Carbon in Health, Environment and Energy’, and we’re also involved in the International Carbon Conference, last held in Aberdeen in 2006. Every Christmas, we have a half-day Capital Carbon meeting, where the talks are more general. Last year, we ran a ‘capturing carbon’ competition, asking for images on any aspect of carbon science – view the results at: www.britishcarbon.org

How is the BGC unique?
Dr Neighbour: We’re a special interest group of SCI, the RSC and the Institute of Physics, devoted to the advancement of carbon science. There are not many subject groups that can claim likewise.

Does the BCG have any other key aims for this year?
Dr Neighbour: We’re anxious to support students and early career workers to network via our bursary scheme, in addition to the Brian Kelly Award (for travel to the World Carbon Conference). We also want to engage a younger audience, such as supporting Science Week in schools.

What is your message for anyone interested in joining BCG?
Dr Neighbour: BCG is growing, come and join us through SCI and have fun exploring the world of carbon science! Our strength is the diversity that surrounds nature’s most important element: carbon.

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